So it’s a new year already, and we’re back in the same place eager to raise and salute the flag of the “new year, new me” mentality. We’re all familiar with the internet “mindfulness” gurus showing us how productive and fulfilling their lives are through drinking more water, meditation, exercise and journaling. Yet when we try to emulate that, things never go quite as well as the mindful masters would have us believe. I found that I’d choose to start a habit, like getting up early and going to the gym and then once life gets busy or I get tired the habit grinds to a halt. Now that we’ve arrived at the start of the (hopefully) roaring twenties, I think it’s time that we turn to our friendly neighbourhood philosophers and intelligentsia for advice on morning routines, what will get us into James Joyce that bit earlier, what habits seem to work and what really don’t. Either way, none of them had typical mornings to say the least. In the words of Aristotle; “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” (scholars don’t actually know if he said that).

Firstly a common thread between many philosophers is that they are all avid walkers. Many of us hate the idea of walking or even strolling, our minds are constantly racing for things to be doing but sometimes slowing the pace a little bit can be a healthy choice. After finishing his lectures at around 14:00, Immanuel Kant would take strict and lengthy walks around his locality, formulating ideas and letting the stresses of the day go. His neighbours would often refer to him as the ‘the Königsberg clock,’ as townspeople knew it was exactly eight o’clock when he would emerge from his home. Walking can be used as an opportunity to allow our brain to sort through and digest information, reflect on the day and find those flashes of creativity or passion. The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard would often be seen running back to his study to write some of his brilliant ideas down while still wearing his hat and carrying his walking stick. Similarly, Charles Dickens and Beethoven would frequently jot down ideas and sparks of creativity during their daily walks. Likewise Aristotle would lecture his students and chat with his philosopher pals while walking around his Lyceum. In my own life, sometimes getting off the bus a few stops early and walking somewhere makes me feel productive and happy, while getting a dose of exercise in. Every now and again, I brave doing the 40 minute walk to my house from UCD which lets me unwind and get outside. 

Getting up early is for many of us a monumental task that can dictate our mood for the rest of the day, continually sliding the off button on our lock screens is an all too familiar sight in the mornings. Getting up early does admittedly have its practical advantages, in that it simply gives you more time out of your day but some swear by its rejuvenating and energising properties. Kant would get up at 5:00 AM every day, to the loud persistent knocks of his servant. He then devoted his morning cup of tea and tobacco pipe to meditation. Friedrich Nietzsche would wake up at a similar time, starting the day by washing himself in cold water and drinking a nice glass of warm milk before starting his work. However if you’re seeking a more structured routine we only have to ask Benjamin Franklin, who broke his daily routine down into detailed minutes. He would rise at five and ask himself the question; “what good shall I do this day?” before having breakfast and starting his work. While getting up at 5 AM every day seems like a little bit of a push for a stressed college student, I found in my own life that getting up between 6:30 and 7:00 AM surprisingly worked for me. While I haven’t been the strictest follower of this routine, but after getting over the initial hump of tiredness it becomes much easier. If you’re consistent with it, it can eventually become enjoyable and allows you more time in the day that could be spent catching up on work or exercising. I’d also recommend placing your phone on the other side of the room when it’s charging, so when the alarm rings you’re forced to get up.

Now if you’re reading this and saying to yourself that none of these routines are nearly as extreme as I want, then I think that the Renaissance man-of-all-trades Leonardo DaVinci or philosopher Karl Marx could have an option for you. Are exams coming up? Just finding that there’s not enough hours in the day? DaVinci would probably recommend his polyphasic sleep routine, whereby you take a short 20 minute nap every four hours which means that you never actually get a proper sleep, but you rack up a wonderful two hours of sleep every 24 hours! I think he could have taken a page from an exam cramming 20 year old. If that doesn’t float your new year boat than Marx may have a solution. According to a Prussian police report on Marx and his family, he didn’t have a fixed time for sleep or waking up, was not the cleanest of people and loved a night out (sound familiar?). He was known for being idle or procrastinating for days on end, but would then work with herculean endurance all through the night if he wanted to before falling asleep fully clothed the next morning, unbothered by any noise around him. I think I’m not the only one who resonates with Marx’s “routine” to some degree. With this arsenal of potential lifestyle choices at your disposal, I’d recommend that you take the new term head on and make even minor tweaks to your routine and thrive on the benefits.


Aaron Collier – Philosophy Columnist